UKC

Destination Article: South Wales Bouldering

© simon rawlinson

Originally recognised as a traditional climbing mecca, and more recently a holiday season sport climbing destination, South Wales' bouldering has long been in the shadows. However, development has slowly continued under the radar, and it might now be time to show what it's got to offer! 

Texas Flood (8B) Neath Abbey  © EliotStephens
Texas Flood (8B) Neath Abbey
© EliotStephens

History

Back in the late 2000s, a group of locals such as Kevin Hughes and Liam Fyfe started fully developing Dinas Rock, and this is really where it all started. Kev began uploading beta videos to his YouTube channel, and things took off from there. A short while later areas on Gower Peninsula, Pembrokeshire and many other sandstone areas became popular thanks to the efforts of Chris Allen, Joe Squire, Peter Johnson et al. As the 2010s came around, development continued at a rapid pace, with Liam Fyfe joining forces with Alex Mannion, and fully developing area after area! During this time, the blanks started to become filled in on Gower and some inland areas, and things grew from there. One area would sprout another area, and one set of problems would sprout another.

What's on Offer

South Wales is an incredibly diverse and multi-faceted place to climb. The locations are part of what makes South Wales a real pleasure to visit. Idyllic beaches are plentiful, but the area also hosts some rugged mountainous venues such as Bilberry and Garn Clochdy, the latter of which has views of Pen Y Fan and the Bristol Channel! The esoterica of the sandstone crags still hold their own beauty, with spots such as The Creek, and Melin Court Falls offering beautiful steep rivers and a woodland straight out of Tolkien. The inland limestone crags are some of the showpieces, with Dinas rock boasting a steep limestone gorge in a really beautiful part of the Brecon Beacons. 

Split Block  © Tom92
Split Block
© Tom92

About to slap the lip  © Tom92
About to slap the lip
© Tom92

South Wales can easily be broken up into some different regions, with Pembrokeshire, Gower Peninsula, Bridgend Coast and Inland Sandstone and Limestone all containing clusters of popular areas! 

The rock ranges from smooth frictionless limestone at Ogmore By Sea, to fine grain sandstone in the valleys, to rough Dolerite in Pembrokeshire, with a bit of everything in between, even some Grit! There truly is something for everyone too, with the easiest of beginner climbing venues having you take your first steps on rock straight off the sand. Some of the best lines in the area can be found in the 6's, as areas such as Preseli and Mynydd Dinas demonstrate. In the 7's, there are some absolute belters that wouldn't be out of place in Fontainebleau or Switzerland. In the 8's, South Wales still has a lot to offer, with over 30 problems in the grade bracket, all the way up to Font 8C. 

Eliot Stephens on the First Ascent of The Origin Sit  © EliotStephens
Eliot Stephens on the First Ascent of The Origin Sit
© EliotStephens, Apr 2021

Crags and Info

Dinas Rock

Dinas is perhaps South Wales' most popular Bouldering area. It's not uncommon to make the two minute walk into Kennelgarth wall of an evening, only to find a sea of crash pads covering the floor of the entire wall! The bouldering at Dinas Rock is situated in a stunning limestone gorge, just in the village of Pontneddfechan. The rock is limestone and the style is quite unique (for the rock type). First found on the way from the parking area is Regulation Wall, which has some engaging straight up problems from around font 4 to 6B, and a couple of traverses on some brilliant holds. Kennelgarth Wall hosts an array of great straight up problems from 5+ to 7C, snd some arm busting traverses starting at around 7B+ all the way up to Liam Fyfe's endurance test piece Wife of Fyfe 8A+ which traverses the length of the wall taking in some of its most difficult climbing. The main crag, just up the waterfall from Kennelgarth Wall is a much more intense experience. There are only a few problems below 7C, and most are in the upper 8's, with The Origin Sit being the hardest at Font 8C. Dinas is certainly a baptism of fire, and many climbers struggle on their first visit. But coming from someone who had that exact experience there, this place rewards loyalty! 

Heather on Great white starke 6a+  © westyb3
Heather on Great white starke 6a+
© westyb3, Mar 2013

Fat Cat Roof  © Jodie Evans
Fat Cat Roof
© Jodie Evans, Mar 2019

Ogmore By Sea

Once referred to as Font without the friction, Ogmore has some incredibly smooth limestone and some great technical climbing on it. Ogmore contains a large number of problems, mostly in the 6's with a few 4s, 5's and 7's thrown in. Hardy's Bay contains some great low grade vertical moves on slopers, crimps and the odd pocket, while Daylight Robbery Area has some fun lip traverses, roof encounters and some big links up to 7C. The Trench is where the real marmite is. Many love it, some despise it! Two long vertical walls make up the trench, and the problems are mostly vertical in nature and are often about making use of features more than holds. But these problems are just like font, hard when you can't do them, but satisfying and much easier when you work them out! Hooby's Roof 7A, and Scoop Dragon 6C are some of the big highlights here. 

Daylight Robbery, Ogmore.  © dave657
Daylight Robbery, Ogmore.
© dave657, Aug 2009

Preseli and Mynydd Dinas

Preseli and Mynydd Dinas are both jewel's in Pembrokeshire's otherwise trad climbing laced crown. They are both effectively rocky outcrops that sit atop hillsides in the north of Pembrokeshire. They undoubtedly have some of the best rock around, and some top notch lines to boot. The dolerite found at Preseli was even used to make stone henge, so you can be sure it's top notch! The crags can be quite harsh places to be in winter, but make lovely summer venues with a light breeze and have some amazing views across the hills. At Preseli, Pete’s Prow 6A is a must for anyone climbing the grade, as it's one of the best lines around! Its neighbour on the other side of the arete, The Nowist 7C+ is also a real showpiece climb, and one with a technical crux off a brilliant pinch. At Mynydd Dinas, the classic Lip Traverse 6B still holds favour with many first time visitors, and Sam's Arête 7A is another example of a stunning line with a picture perfect backdrop! 

Liam Fyfe flying in the Preseli's, Grass Gulley 6c+, Presseli  © simon rawlinson
Liam Fyfe flying in the Preseli's, Grass Gulley 6c+, Presseli
© simon rawlinson, Jun 2016

The über-classic, Pete’s Crack  © Tom92
The über-classic, Pete’s Crack
© Tom92

Sandstone Areas

Whilst all a little smaller in size and esoteric in nature, the sandstone areas have some real hidden gems to offer! From the popular Neath Abbey Quarry, to the small roof of Ponty Common, there are always new problems to be found and climbed. Even days before writing this article, a stunning highball 7C was finally climbed, a whopping 2m off the main road. The views may not always be spectacular from many of these crags, but the climbing and the rock is often superb, and well worth seeking out. Some highlights are Afterglow Sit 6B+ at Abercregan, Tectonics 7B+ at Neath Abbey, and Without a Paddle 7C at the Creek. 

Ish on Mastercard (7C+)  © Rob Knowles
Ish on Mastercard (7C+)
© Rob Knowles, Jan 2021

Abbey bouldering   © alexmannionclimbing
Abbey bouldering
© alexmannionclimbing

Rotherslade Area

Found on Gower Peninsula, just west of Swansea, the Rotherslade area contains some of South Wales most popular problems. Problems such as Brightside Arete 5+, Taste The Rainbow 7B and Moby 8A are all examples of 3 star climbing, and offer something totally different; from a font style arete, a juggy roof and a fridge hugging slug fest! The Sewerpipe Area is perhaps the best beginner friendly venue in South Wales and has over 60 problems all below 7A on featured limestone of varying angles. 

A silhouetted Norman climbs The Arc at sunset.  © Will McColl
A silhouetted Norman climbs The Arc at sunset.
© Will McColl, Feb 2016

Logistics

For most areas, a pad is essential. However, there are some coastal spots such as Rotherslade Beach, Caswell and Ogmore by Sea where a towel or beer mat over the sand will suffice for low problems and traverses. Some areas are rockier, or have poor landings and multiple pads will be required. 

For families with small children and babies, areas such as Ogmore By Sea, Porthcawl and some Gower spots have gentle and short walks, flat sandy landings and aren't too far from amenities and public toilets. 

Rhosili - just one of the many amazing beaches on the Gower Peninsula   © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Rhosili - just one of the many amazing beaches on the Gower Peninsula
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

For beginners, there are some brilliant problems in areas such as Rotherslade and Sewerpipe on Gower. If you're looking for a more rugged feel, Bilberry will be a great option and provide a much contrasting landscape. For the crimp pulling, limestone loving beast, areas such as Bacon Hole and Dinas Rock should deliver in every way! 

When to Go

When to come to South Wales largely depends on what your goals are! There are areas in South Wales climbable year round. In winter, the sandstone is really in condition and the foliage has died down enough to make finding the boulders a doddle. Some of the limestone can however seem and remain wet during the long winter storms. And many coastal areas can be also slow to dry. Brilliant conditions can be found in places like Preseli and Mynydd Dinas, but winter winds can make these venues quite inhospitable! In Spring, conditions can be optimal, but some crags can be a little slower to dry, narrowing the choice of venues a little bit. 

With all that said, Summer and Autumn are generally the best seasons to plan a visit! Most crags are dry and accessible, and there is always somewhere to swim if it's too warm, or a sun trap to head to if it's too cold! The only caveat here is the touristy spots will be busier, so planning ahead to avoid busy car parks and beaches on weekends will be useful! 

Alex Mannion on Right Arête  © Tom92
Alex Mannion on Right Arête
© Tom92

Tides

For many of the areas in South Wales, researching and having a basic knowledge of tide times is very important. Many crags are tidal, and issues can range from simply arriving at a venue at the wrong time and losing a day's climbing, all the way to getting cut off from an escape route and being in serious trouble! 

Accommodation

There are campsites, hotels and B&B's across the region, as much of South Wales is frequented by other outdoor users. Gower and Pembrokeshire both have some brilliant campsites, including the Three Cliffs Bay holiday park on Gower, and Newgale campsite. Grawen Caravan and Camping Park is useful for the inland areas of Dinas Rock, Bilberry and Canyon. This would also be suitable for many of the Sandstone areas. 

Food and Supplies

South Wales is a pretty expansive area, but most regions have many shops nearby. Swansea and Haverfordwest have supermarkets which will be accessible from the Gower and Pembrokeshire Areas respectively, and places like Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff and Bridgend will service the inland and sandstone areas, as well as the Bridgend coast. 

Outdoor Shops

  • Up and Under, Cardiff

Climbing Walls

  • Roc-Bloc, Cardiff
  • Boulders, Cardiff
  • The Climbing Hangar, Swansea
  • Dynamic Rock, Swansea
  • Summit Centre, Trelewis
  • Llangorse Multi Activity Centre, Brecon

Guidebook

South Wales Bouldering - www.southwalesbouldering.com



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25 Nov

Great article, great area, with a great scene! Nice one.

25 Nov

Great to see a new guidebook - back when I lived near Gower in the late 90s and early 00s, the only guide to the area was Adrian Berry's hand drawn topos!

I briefly made a wiki page for bouldering on Gower (https://web.archive.org/web/20130507154500/http://gowerbouldering.wetpaint.com/) which was lost to winds of time and info copied over to the SWBG wiki: http://www.swbg.co.uk/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

My personal experience of bouldering on Gower was that, if you live there, it's great to have, but I wouldn't really class it as a 'destination' for bouldering. It is quite 'bitty' and many of the problems are eliminates and/or extremely short. That said, there are a handful of really cracking problems if you hunt them out (my personal favourites are on the west side of Caswell http://www.swbg.co.uk/wiki/index.php?title=Caswell_Bay_West ; The Scoop has a couple of top quality f6Bish problems, on fantastic rock, and the block has a magnificent and airy arete, which requires a steady head: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/_EHRDeDQ2uxw/Reb_vkqrj8I/AAAAAAAAAXA/crKkxqnmHoE/s1600/blockpaul2+(Small).JPG

Outside Gower, I only ever visited Dinas Rock, which is a great venue, if a little slippery.

I'm looking forward to picking up the new book and maybe exploring some of the other venues that I never visited, if I ever get back and have the time. Thanks to the authors and developers for continuing the work!

25 Nov

That first picture is a tremendous shot. Superb!

25 Nov
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